In Shakespeare's most controversial play, the opposing values of justice and mercy must be resolved. Antonio promises money to help his friend Bassanio woo Portia. He borrows the sum needed from the cruel Shylock, but there will be a dreadful penalty if the loan is not repaid.
The golden world of Portia's Belmont calls forth some of Shakespeare's most lyrical love poetry. But the dark shadow of Shylock is never far from the heart of this brilliant comedy as it moves toward its courtroom climax.
Portia is played by Hadyn Gwynne and Shylock by Trevor Peacock. Julian Rhind-Tutt is Bassanio, and Bill Nighy is Antonio.
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One Of Shakespeare's Best
- M. J. Christensen
Less than good
Not being one of Shakespeare's better plays, most of the first 2.5 acts (60% of the play) is pretty dull with only a few bright spots. The so-called comic relief is anything but, and the secondary characters are without personality, while the leading characters are dreary or dull. The main plot proceeds from the very thinnest of premises, or devices, which begins with the tired (even in Shakespeare's day) routine: "I owe you a lot of money, but if you lend me a little more, I have a plan that will get me what I owe you and hopefully more." However, in this case the reason the borrower needs the money is conjectural, for a modern audience, anyway. Many readers ask, why does a guy need money to sweet talk a rich woman, especially one that already fancies him. The historical answer, NOT however given in the play, is that before marrying, a man was expected to have the resources to maintain a family. In this case, the suitor / borrower is in debt up to his eyeballs. Nevertheless, the play does not tell what exactly the borrower does with the money borrowed.
Definitely among the weakest endings in any of Shakespeare, particularly coming after the trial scene of act iv. The high point in the play as with the performance remains the trial scene. Act v. is as lame as any Shakespeare wrote and serves only to tie up one loose end that could have been easily tied up without the rest of the "merry" business.
In each and every scene and case, the performances are perfect examples of actors who persist is expressing something other than what the dialogue expresses. Their emotions and intonations are simply wrongheaded, such that listening to this recording alone, without reading the text at the same time, the listener will be lost as to the general direction of the story as well as the specific thoughts and feelings of the characters.
The whole thing is fairly disappointing, especially given that Arkangel recordings are the best out there.The antagonist in the play is Shylock, likely a variation on the local pronunciation of the Yiddish "Shlak," meaning both "evil" and "slaughter," as the character asks for a pound of flesh. The story is blatantly anti-Semitic, (as well as being racist,) and the protagonist openly condones these sentiments, so the play has little merit overall and contains little to commend it's author to a modern audience, save a few gratifying speeches, which might easily be enjoyed without wasting time on the whole.
Given that this is Shakespeare, any recorded version will leave you lost as to any of the specific ideas expressed in the text because the modern acting in recorded/performed versions is misguided. Whichever version of any Shakespeare you download, make sure you listen and READ at the same time. Stop and reread without the recording until you understand the meaning specifically, not generally, and you will understand not only the play better but also why the acting is pseudo-correct, that is, it may sound like something meaningful, but the intonations and feelings will often not be congruent with the actual meaning of the text. Shakespeare's plays are available in Kindle versions, the best being NCS The New Cambridge Shakespeare.